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Does Abe Foxman Speak for You?

On March 1, 2005, Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) stood on the floor of the Senate and delivered an impassioned speech in defense of the filibuster, a parliamentary device that allows a minority of 40 Senators to prevent a vote from being called. The occasion for his defense is an effort proposed by Republicans to eliminate the use of the filibuster when judicial nominees are under consideration. In the last Congress, Democrats used the filibuster to prevent several of the most radical right wing judicial nominees from being confirmed.
During his remarks Senator Byrd briefly notes that Hitler came to power “with, and not against, the power of the State” and “turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.” He argues that the Republican attempt to eliminate the filibuster to force the confirmation of radical right wing judges, thereby ending the long-standing Senate tradition of unlimited debate, is a similar tactic used by Republicans to consolidate power.
Sensing an opportunity to muddy the waters of this debate with a little partisan demagoguery, the Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement condemning Sen. Byrd for going “way over the line.” Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, turned up the rhetoric dial, calling the remarks “poisonous rhetoric” that are “reprehensible and beyond the pale.”
One day later, the Republican gambit paid off. Their condemnation was given a hekhsher by Anti-Defamation League Executive Director Abe Foxman. Mirroring the Republican’s rhetoric, Foxman issues the following statement:

It is hideous, outrageous and offensive for Senator Byrd to suggest that the Republican Party’s tactics could in any way resemble those of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The Senator shows a profound lack of understanding as to who Hitler was and what he and his regime represented. Senator Byrd must repudiate his remarks immediately and apologize to the American people for showing such disrespect for this country’s democratic process.

Foxman’s comments are disturbing for a number of reasons. On the merits, his condemnation is ridiculous. Byrd is not saying that the Republicans are Nazis; he is simple pointing to an historical example of when procedural changes were used to lay the groundwork for a power grab. He is counseling caution. With Foxman serving as monitor of all references to Hitler and the Nazis, it appears that any and all comparisons – no matter how innocuous – are forbidden. The effect of Foxman’s condemnation is to serve as an unwarranted distraction from Sen. Byrd’s efforts on behalf of minority rights in the Senate, a cause embraced by most American Jews. And it is possible that the severity of his critique was an effort to curry favor with the Republican majority.
Dissent, anyone?
Related posts: “Manufactured Outrage: Using Holocaust Hysteria To Win An Election”, “Norquist Defends ‘Dems as Nazis’ Quip”

39 thoughts on “Does Abe Foxman Speak for You?

  1. Finally- thank you. I haven’t really seen any critique of the criticism and it’s definitely warranted. It’s one thing to go around saying so-and-so is a Nazi or labeling things a “[fill-in-the-blank] holocaust,” but Byrd wasn’t just throwing out a label- he was drawing an analogy with more depth. Sure, we don’t want to cheapen the Holocaust by attaching its name to every minor annoyance, but when there are real lessons to be learned from that chapter in history we can and should make those comparisons.

  2. Hitler ate cheese. I ate cheese. Hitler put his pants on one leg at a time — so do I! Holy shit — I think I’m Hitler!
    But wait — here comes Abe Foxman to tell me my comparison was hideous and poisonous. I’d better stop noting these points of similarity. Thanks, Abe.

  3. It’s embarrassing and it’s foolish because if we are ever to use our suffering under the Nazis to express our concerns as Jews, we should be very careful to only do so when it really matters to Jews, and only in the most extreme circumstances. Otherwise, we will look like, uh, you know, that boy who cried “wolf” once too many times.
    By TM of Jewlicious

  4. I really do think Byrd – as problematic a character as he is – has a real point here. And it seems to me that the person exploiting the Holocaust here is Foxman – exploiting it to push the partisan GOP agenda, when he should either be agreeing with Byrd or standing aside. Of course it’s not the first time Foxman has done this either.. GOP politicians make comparisons like this (or worse) and we get nothing but silence from Foxman.
    Shilling for the Bush Administration is much easier that looking after the rights of threatened minorities, and it pays better, too. Just ask Armstrong Williams, Jeff Gannon, and a cast of thousands seeded throughout the entire sickeningly corrupt U.S. media establishment.

  5. The ADL will always condemn a Nazi-comparison. This usually takes the tone of a harsh sounding press-release, with nothing elese. Big friggin deal. They’ve done it with Byrd, and they did it with the far right settlers who tried out that idiotic orange star campaign.
    I don’t know who Foxman personally voted for, but I don’t think its reasonable to call him a “right wing” figure. Perhaps the ADL is too quick to condemn any Nazi comparison, but that’s not a question of being left or right.

  6. Abe Foxman does NOT speak for me. I am continually embarrassed by the stupid mistakes and conscious half truths that organization puts out to maintain its own relevancy. Self serving jewish organizations who exist only to stay in existence could be the topic of another post….

  7. Next on Jew School: The Chicago fire has been extiguished.
    dude, this happened weeks ago AND it was covered on two blogs (mine and JewView) soon afterwards

  8. except, dov, now there’s a coordinated letter writing campaign which makes it relevant.
    oh, and jewschool has more traffic than both of you put together (and an entirely different readership) and it was never covered here.
    but thanks for your paltry attempt at one-upsmanship. it’s well appreciated.

  9. “The effect of Foxman’s condemnation is to serve as an unwarranted distraction from Sen. Byrd’s efforts on behalf of minority rights in the Senate”
    Give me a break, “minority rights?” This is the guy who used some of the longest filibusters to BLOCK civil rights legislation in the 60s. This is a guy who was a member of the KKK. If there was ever a time to call someone on their Nazi comparisons, this is it.
    Abe Foxman does not always speak for me, but he does on this one. It is shocking that Byrd is even in Congress, we certainly shouldn’t give him leniency on his hyperbolic statements.

  10. What would blogging be, if not patlry attempts at one upmanship? it’s part of the fun, and I see (here and eleswhere) that you’re not above joining the game.
    You might want to check your math, or TLB about those stats, moby.
    Don’t forget to carry the two.

  11. Considering Byrd’s white-sheeted past, who can tell if his Nazi comparisons are meant to condemn or approve?
    More seriously, I’d like to thank Incite, Siviyo, Sam and Brown for showing us how the Left thinks. Some people might be embarrased to let slide (and even justify) Byrd’s remarks, but you guys just come right out with it.
    Do any of you expect me to believe that if a Republican said the exact same thing, you’d have the same response? Please.
    I’d also like to point out that if someone made similar Nazi comparisons on this website, they’d likely be banned.
    Standout comments:
    “Democrats used the filibuster to prevent several of the most radical right wing judicial nominees from being confirmed”
    “Radical” right? Is that an analysis or an epithet?
    “On the merits, his condemnation is ridiculous.”
    Watch that word “ridiculous”. It usually replaces real arguments rather than amplifies them.
    “Byrd is not saying that the Republicans are Nazis; he is simple pointing to an historical example of when procedural changes were used to lay the groundwork for a power grab. He is counseling caution. ”
    And Foxman is not saying that Byrd said the Republicans are Nazis. If you believe that Byrd made his comparison purely to illustrate an historical example, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
    “it appears that any and all comparisons – no matter how innocuous – are forbidden.”
    Innocuous?
    “Byrd wasn’t just throwing out a label- he was drawing an analogy with more depth.”
    Oh, that helps. Depth. It wasn’t that deep, Siviyo.
    “but when there are real lessons to be learned from that chapter in history we can and should make those comparisons.”
    OK, how about the dangers of false accusation (Reichstag building fire, anti-Semitism)?
    “Hitler ate cheese. I ate cheese. Hitler put his pants on one leg at a time — so do I! Holy shit — I think I’m Hitler! ”
    Senator Byrd (D-Klan) compared Republican political tactics to Nazi tactics. That’s not an irrelevancy like cheese-eating or dressing.
    “I really do think Byrd – as problematic a character as he is – has a real point here. ”
    Please elaborate. Today filibuster rules, tomorrow the world!
    Actually, I’m not in favor of changing the filibuster rules myself. Thanks to people like you, in a couple more elections the Republicans will gain the 60 seats they need to make the issue moot.

  12. homes, tell you what: put sitemeter on your blogs and we’ll compare in a month. we’ve been teetering around 40,000 visitors monthly for about six months.

  13. J –
    Don’t assume how I (we) respond to when Foxman jumps on the right re: Hitler references. I think as a general rule, Foxman is trigger happy when it comes to condemning folks re holocaust/hitler/nazi references. There are times when it is warranted and useful, and times when it is profoundly counterproductive and misplaced. this time its the latter.
    Actually, I didn’t say that Foxman accused Byrd of saying that the Republicans are Nazis. My point is that if Byrd had said that the Repubs are Nazis, Foxman would have been justified in slamming him. But he didn’t say they were Nazis; he didn’t even come close.
    while making a historic point was not the only reason behind byrd’s comparison, i think it was at least the central reason. the other reason is probably that byrd thinks the repub admin represents creeping fascism, but that is speculative.
    re ridiculous and radical. both are clearly characterizations (my own). that seems clear enough. what’s the problem exactly?

  14. Already have sitemeter on mine, not sure if Z has it on hes
    I’m not trying to tarnish the legand that is JewSchool, but I am sure your stats get a little boost because it’s a team effort. 10 teamates checking the blog all day long is sure to goose the numbers.
    But again, I don’t suggest your numbers would be poor without that help; just less gaudy than they are now.

  15. “10 teamates checking the blog all day long is sure to goose the numbers.”
    not if they are coming from the same IP addresses repeatedly. my server’s stat’s package reports 43,632 unique visitors in february.

  16. “There are times when it is warranted and useful, and times when it is profoundly counterproductive and misplaced. ”
    Incite, why are you protecting Byrd? If you want to go after Foxman, isn’t it “counterproductive and misplaced” to do so while defending a former Klansman like Byrd. Would you defend David Duke against Foxman? How about Farrakhan? If you want to talk about taking a position that is “counterproductive and misplaced,” it is your defense of Byrd.

  17. Incite-
    I have mixed views on Foxman myself. He is trigger-happy sometimes. But in the case of Byrd, we’re talking about a senior member of the US Senate (I’d put exclamation points after that if it didn’t seem cheesy) speaking on the floor of the Senate. A Senator is one of the most powerful people in the country and in the world. If Foxman shouldn’t attack a Senator, who should he attack?
    “But he didn’t say they were Nazis; he didn’t even come close. ”
    I’m sure your’e familiar with the idea that statements can be understood more broadly than what’s contained in their exact technical meaning. No, Byrd didn’t say the Republicans were Nazis, but his statement clearly gave off the impression that the Republicans are Nazi-like.
    “while making a historic point was not the only reason behind byrd’s comparison, i think it was at least the central reason.”
    Who knows what’s going on in the mind of that disgrace to the Senate? It doesn’t matter. Even Democrats should be responsible for what they say in public, whatever their intentions.
    “re ridiculous and radical. both are clearly characterizations (my own). that seems clear enough. what’s the problem exactly?”
    The problem is that these are distortions.
    Thanks for the pic, Mobius. Where can I buy that uniform? (Just kidding. The RJC gives them out at its secret meetings to all the new recruits.)

  18. Some of you talk some stupid sh*t.
    I don’t like Foxman. He not only made an ass of himself in his criticism of The Pasion, he brought so much publicity through the developing controversy that his efforts were utterly counter-productive.
    Let me remind y’all about an incident that you may recall. The orange stars Israeli settlers began wearing, intended to symbolize the similarity between evicting Jews from their own land and the Nazistic concept of Judenrein.
    World Jewery condemned this tasteless comparison of evil Nazis and peace loving Jews. The settlers responded. They took off the stars http://www.jewlicious. com/index.php?p=571). Even these extremists – people who chain themselves to buildings attempting to save their land, realize that Hitler/Nazis are off limits. Nothing is that evil.
    Now a U.S. Senator, former KKK and all, makes the very same comparison and you say it is acceptable!? SHUT THE FU*K UP.
    Give credit where credit is due. Foxman is doing what he has to do. How can such insensitivity be tolerated?! (If Byrd was a Republican he would be in some deep sh*t now. Anyone reading this knows that).
    Lose your biased partisanship and see reality for what it is.

  19. Whoa. Mobius v. Dov pissing contest in full effect. Who’s gonna be the the (real) bigger blogger and shut the f*ck up?

  20. This week’s Forward:
    …In reality, it is the Republican Jewish Coalition that avoids rebuking members of its own party. Democratic strategist Bob Beckel raised this point last week while debating Brooks on the Fox News program “The Big Story With John Gibson.” Beckel criticized [Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director Matt] Brooks directly, saying that his group failed to take on Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma last year after Cole told reporters that voting against President Bush would be like voting for Hitler. Beckel also accused Brooks of failing to criticize anti-tax activist and White House confidant Grover Norquist after he repeatedly compared liberals to Nazis.
    “We said it was wrong,” Brooks said.
    “I don’t believe you,” Beckel responded.
    Brooks, who was traveling this week, did not return a message requesting comment. A search of his organization’s Web site and major news databases failed to turn up one instance of Brooks condemning Cole or Norquist, or, for that matter, directly criticizing any Republican for crying Nazi….
    http://www.forward.com/article

  21. The comparison was perfectly apt.
    If Republicans are going to use parliamentary tactics reminiscent of Hitler they should be prepared to be called on it.

  22. Re: Pissing Contest. We all know who the real bigger blogger is. So I’ll just STFU.
    But seriously though. A stats fight? With all the unique visitors we get, none of us could muster over 200 votes for the JIB Blog award thing. And that was over the course of a week. I mean seriously. All Jew blogs suck 😉

  23. “nothing is that evil.”
    Without defending Byrd or Foxman, it’s stupid of us to say that nothing/no one is as evil as the Holocaust. Lots of people are that evil, the Holocaust was just extremely successful. The nazi/hitler comparison can be very a useful one. Like when Afghanistan made all Buddhists wear armbands. Or when Saddam gassed Kurds, or what’s happening in Darfur. Hitler was that evil, so are other people. So people shouldn’t trivialize the Holocaust, but we shouldn’t pretend that genocide against Jews is more evil than genocide against anyone else.

  24. “If Republicans are going to use parliamentary tactics reminiscent of Hitler they should be prepared to be called on it.”
    If the loons can’t see the difference between a rule change allowing a majority to end a filibuster and Nazi tactics, they should be prepared for the contempt heaped on them by the sane and the losses of the candidates they support.

  25. Like the late liberal Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Sen. Byrd has repeatedly apologized for his youthful KKK membership. Of course, Byrd’s opposition to civil rights was unconscionable. While Sen. Byrd’s rhetoric is a little overheated at times, he is not out of line comparing tactics of the Republicans to fascists. The Senate has the filibuster to protect the rights of the minority faction.

  26. “Like the late liberal Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Sen. Byrd has repeatedly apologized for his youthful KKK membership. Of course, Byrd’s opposition to civil rights was unconscionable.”
    Even if forgiveable, it does not give him a blank slate. It is shameful that he is in Congress. It is shameful that he defends a tool he used to hold down black children by comparing its erosion to Hitler and the Nazis. Minority congressional procedural powers don’t protect minorities. They protect the status quo, for better, or as Byrd used it, worse.
    “not out of line comparing tactics of the Republicans to fascists”
    He did not compare them to fascists generally. He compared them to Nazis, Hitler, and the other perpetrators of the Shoah. There is a difference. Mussolini was evil (a fascist), but he doesn’t have sh*t on the evil perpetrated at the direction of Hitler.

  27. None of this conservative bellyaching about Byrd’s politics from forty years ago changes the point. Congressional Republicans are shameless opportunists trying to change the rules to concentrate their power. This is how the conservative echo chamber works. Whining about Byrd’s Klan past is only a cynical (but effective) way to change the subject.

  28. “Whining about Byrd’s Klan past is only a cynical (but effective) way to change the subject.
    Zionista, the issue presented here is not the merit of the Republican proposal. It is Byrd’s comments and Foxman’s response. In that regard, Byrd’s past is relevant, as well as Foxman’s, as well as the past of the Holocaust. The subject of the original post is focused both on recent events and events occurring decades ago.
    By the way, I’m not a conservative, I’m a libertarian. And, I have no love for spendaholic government-largesse-exp anding Congressional Republicans.

  29. Zionista cynically bellyaches and shamelessly whines that “Congressional Republicans are shameless opportunists trying to change the rules to concentrate their power.”
    What are you saying? Are you saying that the rule change is illegal? Probably not – you’d be dead wrong. What then – that even though the rule change is legal, the Republicans shouldn’t do it anyway? On what grounds? The rule in itself has always been questionable – it gives the minority party extra power, but also frustrates the popular will of the voters who elected the majority. Not exactly a question of fascism vs. anti-fascism. Alternatively, the rule should stay because it’s a long-standing tradition (my reason for hoping the Republicans don’t make the rule change). This argument is fairly laughable coming from a Democrat, though. Especially since what prompted the rule change effort was highly non-traditional (though also legal) efforts by the Democrats to block Republican nominees (the Senate traditionally has blocked nominees only when the competence or morality of the nominee is problematic, though legally it may reject a nominee for any reason).
    But all this nuance gets lost when there’s an opportunity to use words like “shameless opportunists”. And if the Republicans had a Klan Senator, we’d never hear the end of it. (Personally, my vote for most morally compromised Senator is the manslaughterer of Chappaquidic.)

  30. J: “The rule in itself has always been questionable – it gives the minority party extra power, but also frustrates the popular will of the voters who elected the majority.”
    Fine. But it also depends on what you mean by majorities and minorities, and if you want to talk about states or voters. There were 33 Senate races across the country last November. 41.6 million Americans cast votes for Democratic candidates, and 38.1 million voted for Republicans. Looking at these numbers, and hearing Republican claim any mandate based purely on Senate seats, I will stand by my characterization of Republicans’ legislative strategy as a clear case of shameless opportunism.
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/p

  31. Zionista:
    I have no idea what your post has to do with changing the filibuster rule. Whether or not the Republicans claim a “mandate” (always a slippery concept, since the laws contain no “mandate” provisions, but only recognize winners and losers of an election), this has no bearing on whether they can or should change the rule.
    I have no idea if your numbers are accurate, and I’m not going to spend the time doing the research. But right off the bat, I notice that you consider only the most recent Senate races. If we’re going to talk about margins of victory, the most recent election for each of the 100 seats must be considered. Why do I suspect that that number will be more favorable to the Republicans? Also, your numbers reflect the fact that the Republicans do better, on the average, in the low-population states, and the Dems the reverse. Pure numbers are a legitimate way to look at things, but I’ve got to wonder whether if things were reversed, you wouldn’t be telling us that number of seats and electoral success in a greater number of states were the most relevant criteria.
    And while you did speak only of Senate seats, part of any claim the Republicans might make regarding a “mandate” would also involve their majority in the House. What are the numbers re votes for Representatives? (Oh, yeah – there’s also governorships and state legislatures, not to mention the 3-million Bush margin, but I don’t want to put you Lefties on suicide watch, so I’ll stop there.)
    As far as Republicans being shameless opportunists, you failed to address my earlier post. The Republicans only considered the filibuster change after the Dems (shamelessly? opportunistically?) abused it to reject Republican nominees. Any arguments?

  32. J: “As far as Republicans being shameless opportunists, you failed to address my earlier post. The Republicans only considered the filibuster change after the Dems (shamelessly? opportunistically?) abused it to reject Republican nominees. Any arguments?”
    Pound for pound, Democrats have rejected significantly fewer judicial nominees under the Bush administration than Republicans rejected during the Clinton administration. But really, this isn’t about fairness at all and I believe you know that. It’s about power. Republicans have the opportunity to consolidate it, and they’re not ashamed to sieze it. Why do you try so hard to pretend it’s something else?

  33. J –
    I agree that you can say Byrd was claiming the Repubs were engaging in Nazi-like behavior, if you accept that the behavior he was talking about was not the kind of behavior we typically associate with the Nazis. The power of the term Nazi-like behavior is the association it has with genocide, etc… Does it not make a difference if the comparison is between Hitler’s parlimentary moves to consolidate power and the Repubs (argubly) similar moves, as opposed to comparing, say, the evacuation of the gaza settlements with the Nazi’s judenrein policy? or Rep Cole’s comment that a vote against Bush is like a vote for Hitler during WWII?
    As for the merits of the filibuster, I think Byrd makes a good case for it in his speech. He never claims that it is illegal to eliminate the filibuster and he acknowledges that it can be an impediment to progress (eg: civil rights act). but he also notes that the senate is not at all a representative body, that it was intended to be slow moving, this it is good to have a moderating force within government, regardless of ones personal politics. as other have pointed out, the Repubs were perfectly happy to keep Clinton’s liberal court pics from having a vote; the Repubs current attempts to have every single nominee confirmed are understandable, but to get there they have slipped into some disturbing behavior, including the accusation that the dems are anti-black and latino becuase a few of the nominees are black and latino. but it’s what most observers have come to expect from the Repubs – they play hardball and they play to win. Nothing is out of bounds. its impossible to know, but i’d guess the repubs have been itching to get rid of the filibuster ever since they gained control of the senate. they have not shown much appreciation for any of the powers granted to minorities in either House: oversight (of them) is not part of the Republican worldview.
    The mandate discussion is a little silly. Repubs love the 3 million Bush victory margin today, but didn’t seem to think losing the pop vote in 2000 was terribly meaningful.
    as for Byrd’s previous membership in the klan as a young man… i’m not sure of its relevence here except as a tool to discredit byrd. the republican party is full of former segregationists and current friends of the Council of Conservative Citizens http://www.cofcc.org/) , which i’d say is considerably worse. either people can change or they can’t.
    Merliner –
    The settler’s decision to wear (and then remove) orange stars was the right thing to do, but it is not parallel to the Byrd comment. Again, Byrd was not saying that the Republican policies are the same as the Nazis, only that there are disturbing similarilties about their respective attempts to consolidate power. You claim “if Byrd was a Republican he would be in some deep sh*t now. Anyone reading this knows that.” This is actually the opposite of the truth – the Dems are much more willing to condemn other Dems re Holocaust/Nazi/Hitler references than the Repubs.
    Yisrael –
    Byrd is not a Klansman and hasn’t been since before most of us were born. Duke remains a white-supremacist. Farrakhan’s current views are well known. Also, my defense of Byrd has nothing to do with his former segregationist positions. Your point here escapes me. Ronald Reagan was once a union rep – does that somehow undermine his credibility as an anti-union president?

  34. clarification – i’m approve of the settler decision to remove the stars, not put them on in the first place, which i think was wick wick wack.

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